Current Seeks Firsthand Accounts of Racial Profiling in Balcones Heights

Greg M. Schwartz

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Allegations of racial profiling continue to dog the Balcones Heights Police Department, despite a denial of such activity from Police Chief Bill Stannard following a rally outside the department on February 9 where over 40 protestors gathered to accuse officers there of racial profiling in order to apprehend unauthorized immigrants.

Carlos De Leon, Minister of Information for the Brown Berets of San Antonio, has met with some of the alleged victims and says he's hearing that officers are staking out a spot at I-10 and Crossroads Blvd and stopping people that look Hispanic.

“When they go into asking for immigration papers, even if you have a valid license and insurance, that's a violation of civil liberties,” says De Leon. “That's the issue we're trying to fight.”

Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, says that a police department needs to have a federal contract in order to enforce immigration warrants for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

“That would be totally off the wall `if it's happening`,” said Harrington, whose organization fights to protect civil liberties through education and litigation. He noted that the organization had recently won an injunction stopping similar immigration enforcement by police in Otero County in New Mexico, near the Texas border.

Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for ICE in Dallas, confirmed that in order for police to enforce immigration laws, their department has to have a signed memorandum of agreement with ICE. Rusnok referred to the agency's 287(g) program, an ICE partnership initiative that allows state and local law enforcement entities to enter into a partnership with ICE. Under such agreement, officers who participate have to go through a four-week training program with ICE, followed by subsequent oversight from ICE.

However, the ICE web site indicates that only three Texas departments are currently involved with this program and that Balcones Heights is not one of them.

Rusnok says that persons who are arrested and taken to a detention facility may be referred as suspected aliens to ICE under the Criminal Alien Program. But this is far cry from allegations that Balcones Heights officers have actually been knocking on apartment doors to execute ICE warrants.

“People are afraid their families will be affected, so they want to wait to see what happens with the protests `before they speak out`,” said the Brown Berets' De Leon of why first hand accounts aren't being offered yet. The Current is actively seeking contact from those who can relay first hand accounts and we will offer anonymity to anyone who is willing to speak to their experiences. But names and dates are needed in order to obtain police reports to verify such incidents.

De Leon described the case of one woman who alleges she was blackmailed out of roughly $4,000. He says she was pulled over by a narcotics officer who said she and her companion looked suspicious and immediately asked for immigration papers. The woman, who is an illegal immigrant, charges that the officer then demanded she come up with a cash payoff or face deportation proceedings. De Leon says she quickly sold some items to raise about $4,000 to pay off the officer.

De Leon cited another story of a man was driving his truck packed with personal items, since he intended to go back to Mexico. Upon being released after being stopped and detained, the man was told that his truck and all his belongings had been “misplaced.” De Leon further reports that he's hearing the Balcones Heights PD have been escalating deportation processes by demanding detainees prove immigration status within a matter of hours or be deported.

Antonio Diaz of the Texas Indigenous Council says he's been contacted with upwards of 20 complaints over the past two months. He said four of the people had been arrested and two deported. He said one traffic stop that turned into a violation for lack of insurance escalated into an immigration status check.

“It's a hefty ticket, but doesn't call for arrest,” said Diaz of a fine for lack of auto insurance. Diaz says he's heard the reports of Balcones Heights officers knocking on apartment doors to execute warrants from ICE. He calls these violations of the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, citing illegal search and seizure, incrimination of self, and equal protection under the law regardless of race.

“So none of these protections have been respected by the Balcones Heights Police Department,” said Diaz.

Javier Sanchez, a local activist and musician, reports another account of his cousin Lorenzo Sanchez' wife Sandra Bear being detained. He related her account of riding in a vehicle with a co-worker and being stopped. When they asked why they were being pulled over, the officer allegedly told them straight out that it was because they are Mexican. Bear is a legal immigrant, but her co-worker wasn't and was deported.

“Besides that it's racist, it's illegal because the cops do not have ICE training,” said Javier Sanchez. Lorenzo Sanchez confirmed the account, but said Bear was still reluctant to speak about it.

The police report by Officer Alan Langford from the December 18 incident says the vehicle was stopped when “a computer check showed the vehicle was not insured.” It says driver Jaustino Martinez “failed to identify himself and had no insurance.” It goes on to say that passenger Bear “also failed to identify herself. Both individuals were detained by ICE for further investigation.”

One semi-anonymous Balcones Heights officer, or someone acting as one, claims that it's the part-time officers in the department who are engaging in racial profiling.

“The Balcones Heights PD regular Full-Time Officers are not playing these games with the people. We are busy being Professional Police Officers. It is the old, fat, bald, handicapped reserve officers who are playing police by practicing their racism,” said a commenter going by Edward3523 at the Express-News's web site.

Stephen Walker, a Bexar County Justice of the Peace and former Balcones Heights city councilman, says the Balcones Heights PD only has about 12 full-time officers and around 20 slots for part-time reserves.

“I believe they come in 16 hours a month,” said Walker of the reserves, noting that they are paid a “paltry sum” for further hours. Walker says arrest stats that might indicate racial profiling were never out of order during his time on the council, but he expressed concern about what he's hearing now.

“I was kind of surprised to hear `people` were claiming `police` were pulling them out,” said Walker of the allegations that officers had been taking people from their apartments on alleged immigration violations. Walker acknowledged that such actions, if true, would be contrary to department claims that officers are not acting as pseudo-ICE agents.

“They seem to be in a lockdown mentality, they panic when they see the media,” said Walker on his impression of department's reaction to the controversy.

Long time activist Jaime Martinez, founder of the Cesar E. Chavez March for Justice, was in Washington D.C. recently to lobby federal officials on immigrant rights issues. Martinez and others spoke with Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Secretary of Labor appointee Hilda Solis and German Trejo, chair of the LULAC National Immigration Affairs Commission. Martinez says the allegations of racial profiling in Balcones Heights tie directly to those issues.

“We want a moratorium to stop the deportation and raids of hard-working immigrant families and to stop the incarceration of children,” said Martinez, referring to the Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas where children have been among those detained in prison-like conditions. Martinez and associates also lobbied for creation of a pathway to citizenship.

“We don't want immigration reform to be put under the carpet,” said Martinez in reference to the many issues on the Obama administration's overloaded agenda. “The `political` atmosphere has scapegoated hard-working immigrantsâ?¦ since 9/11.”

“We are going to continue to protest until they stopâ?¦ they are not trained as border patrol and that should not be happening in our own backyard,” said Martinez of the allegations in Balcones Heights.


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